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Where does that math word come from?

By Murray Bourne, 20 Jun 2007

This is a great resource for the historical background of the terms we use in mathematics: Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics (by "Jeff570" - no longer available).

For example:

ARITHMETIC is a Greek word transliterated into English as arithmetike. It passed into Latin as arithmetica. [...] Fibonacci [around 1200, used] the form "Rismetirca."


ASYMPTOTE was used by Apollonius, with a broader meaning than its current definition, referring to any lines which do not meet, in whatever direction they are produced (Smith).

The first citation of the word in the OED is in 1656 in Hobbes' Elements of Philosophy by Thomas Hobbes: "Asymptotes..come still nearer and nearer, but never touch."


MATHEMATICS. Pythagoras is said to have coined the words philosophy for "love of wisdom" and mathematics for "that which is learned."

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  1. Use simple calculator-like input in the following format (surround your math in backticks, or qq on tablet or phone):
    `a^2 = sqrt(b^2 + c^2)`
    (See more on ASCIIMath syntax); or
  2. Use simple LaTeX in the following format. Surround your math with \( and \).
    \( \int g dx = \sqrt{\frac{a}{b}} \)
    (This is standard simple LaTeX.)

NOTE: You can mix both types of math entry in your comment.


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